You might be wondering why I am calling one of the most famous chapters in the Bible, Hebrews 11, “The Hope Chapter” – since its claim to fame is the topic of faith, not hope. This serendipity of Bible study never fails to delight – when subsequent readings of parts of the Bible (we think we know well) morph into new and fascinating territory for exploration. Definitely a de facto evidence of its Divine authorship!
When reading Hebrews 11, we usually look for evidence to bolster arguments supporting how “without faith it is impossible to please God.” v.6 We enjoy the details of events described from individual lives in this great Hall of Fame of faith. What we might overlook in putting the magnifying glass on faith, is the equally important issue of hope – being so eloquently outlined. In fact, the chapter begins by telling us “faith is assurance of things hoped for…. v.1 So today let’s examine this idea of hope in Hebrews 11 together.
What I see in this chapter is two different levels of faith being described as noticed from God’s perspective. One is that enacted in faithful lives as they were lived; the second is faith in future events promised by God. We see people like Moses and Sarah in spotlighted moments when they believed God and acted righteously in faith. Because of their belief, God did great wonders. Moses “choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,” is enabled to become a great savior. v.25 Sarah’s faith motivated God to give her the “ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life…” vv.25, 11 These accounts are astonishing miracles of growth and change in ordinary people’s ordinary lives as they lived them. Their faith allowed them to continue to be useful tools to God as He worked out His plans for good in the earth in their generations.
The second, and perhaps more subtle, level of faith outlined here is the faith in future, unseen things. This is the hope connection. It is what the faithful heroes trusted God would fulfill beyond their lives. Hebrews has already laid a good foundation for this in the thoughts of the previous chapters. Hebrews 6 puts it this way:
We desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises v.11-12,
We may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us, this hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast… vv.18-19
So there is this ongoing theme of future hope that is inherent to faithful lives. We are told that hope is also what motivated the Lord Jesus to endure the cross, shame and hostility of sinners. Heb. 12:2-3 That phrase, “set before us” is repeated here in the context of hope being a “race”(of life) and a “joy” set before Jesus. Like the faithful, and the Lord Jesus, we too are encouraged:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus. ch. 12:1-2
The question becomes, then, “Just what is this hope?” Hebrews 11 provides a great deal of information to give us clues. As good Bible students we should always notice repeated words or phrases. Obviously, “faith” is the prevalent one here, but another word, “promise(s,ed)”, also occurs seven times in the chapter. vv.9 (2X), 11, 13, 17, 33, 39 Hmmmmmm, what is that alluding to? It is coupled with words like “inheritance”, “not having received” them, “reward”, and “seeking a country”. More clues. The obvious connection to a future fulfillment is strong.
Another clue is the idea that certain people are highlighted in our Hall of Fame list. Just who, and how much emphasis on each person, should be noted. Abraham gets the largest headline space by far. His son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob are listed as well. Okay, that should be enough to cause our minds to go back to Genesis 12–17. There we can consider the foundational covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants – which just so happens to include promises for the future. He was told by God (among other great blessings) that he would inherit the land of Israel forever. But Hebrews 11:9, 13 & 39 tell us he never received the fulfillment of those promises.
Honing in still further, we see that the faithful were looking for a “heavenly country” which is paralled with the idea of a “city” God is preparing (literal Greek translation) for them. v.16 Note too, in verse 35, that the faithful are awaiting a “better resurrection” in anticipating their hope.
So how do we tie this together, and what is the essence of this future city/hope? Think of other places that describe such a thing. The next chapter picks up the theme:
Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…the church of the first-born, who are enrolled in heaven… Hebrews 12.22-23
Adding Revelation 21 to our contemplation brings all the threads together. There we learn the “New Jerusalem”, “the holy city” is actually the “bride adorned for her husband”, “the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” It is the very people of Hebrews 11 – resurrected and immortal in the Kingdom of God, with Jesus ruling from Jerusalem, in the Land promised to Abraham forever! It is all the dead in Christ now resurrected and joining the “Forerunner” (Heb. 6:20) or “Firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18) in his glory and the glory of his Father! It is God Himself ultimately dwelling with men, who have overcome sin, as the All in All. (Rev. 21:3, 1 Cor. 15:25-28) It is Abraham and his multiplied, faithful seed sitting at the celebratory feast of King Jesus:
I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven Matt. 8:11
Our hope then, is a future fulfillment of the promises to Abraham to inherit the land of Israel with other resurrected faithful people, and to worship God as the figurative bride of His son, Jesus. Forever. That is what the faithful men and women of Hebrews 11 looked for – in hope. That is what we are encouraged to focus our lives on as well.
And the wonder of it all, the veritable icing on the cake, is the conclusion of this magnificent chapter. We find – that God, who so brilliantly has laid out this plan of salvation for these amazing people of old – deemed it fit that they would not inherit the promises without us. You and me.
“that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
They sleep in the grave, awaiting the return of the Savior of mankind, who will soon be sent to resurrect and save faithful people from all generations of history. By God’s grace, including you and me.
What a masterful design to save His faithful and hopeful people! Humbling and exalting!
Praise, honor and glory are due to His Greatness!